Foreigners Not A Good Fit In China

Posted in the China Forum


Brooklyn, NY

#1 Jul 1, 2012
Expat Assimilation, Tribalism, and the Kaiser Kuo Show
Posted by Stan on 6/25/12 • Categorized as China News

As I correctly guessed in last night’s links post, there is absolutely nothing going on today that could even remotely be called news. I’m therefore going to venture forth into an area that is wholly unrelated to any current events. It also calls for a bit of navel gazing, which I usually try to avoid.(You’ll understand why after reading this questionable collection of hacktacular generalizations.)

The topic: expat life. The reason I’m thinking about it today: I just listened to the first part of a really excellent This American Life podcast entitled “Americans in China,” which is a long set piece by New Yorker journalist Evan Osnos. If you don’t know much about China, you will enjoy this glimpse into what it’s like living over here. If you are an expat, you will no doubt have fun hearing from, and about, the usual cast of characters, including Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn, with a special guest appearance by Gady Epstein.

Don’t worry, I don’t want to talk about what it’s like to eat chicken feet or how to deal with people spitting in elevators.

What really stood out in the podcast was the discussion about how expats: 1) succeed/fail in “fitting in” in China; and 2) how expats deal with troubling socio-political issues that they are forced to face in China. I’ll take a look at that first topic in this post.

The concept of “fitting in” came up over and over in the extended interview with Kaiser Kuo, who many of you probably know, or know of. He describes the “chasm” between the U.S. and China, which frames the discussion of the challenges of his personal integration into the country, which was dealt a serious blow in ’99 with the Belgrade Embassy bombing (a very emotional and moving portion of the interview). You’ll hear similar things from other expats, particularly those with Chinese ethnic backgrounds, Chinese spouses, and kids that are being brought up in a bilingual/bicultural environment. Kaiser falls into all three of those categories, and while the anecdotes he related are not exactly assimilation problems, his comments did make me look at this in a broader context.

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